Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Newnans Lake State Forest contains over 1,000 acres of natural lands just east of Gainesville in Alachua County. This property has been in state ownership since 1921 when 3,000 acres were acquired to establish a residential farm community for Floridians with developmental disabilities. Over the years, parts of the 3,000 acre property were transferred to other state and local agencies. In January 2015, 1,005 acres of undeveloped land were assigned to the Florida Forest Service to manage as a state forest.
Newnans Lake State Forest is located east of Gainesville on the western shore of Newnans Lake in Alachua County. The headquarters is co-located with the Waccasassa Forestry Center Office at 5353 NE 39th Ave., Gainesville, FL. The two trailheads are located along State Road 26 at 1404 NE 55th Blvd, and 1011 NE 55th Blvd, Gainesville, FL 32641.
Newnans Lake State Forest is named after Newnans Lake which lies just east of the forest. Although shallow, this 6,000-acre lake is approximately 2 miles wide and 4 miles long. The gum and bald cypress swamps extending from the lake are the most intact natural systems on the state forest and host a variety of wading birds and other wildlife. A couple of bald eagle nests are found adjacent to these swamps. Sunnyland Creek, Lake Ridge Creek and Lake Forest Creek flow through the forest into Newnans Lake. The state forest is one link in a chain of public lands that runs along the lakeshore and protects this beautiful and historically significant aquatic feature. Trees such as slash pine, longleaf pine, loblolly pine, bald cypress, oaks, sweetgum, red maple, southern magnolia, black gum, and hickory are all found on the forest.
Aerial photos of the area date back to 1937. The photos show that the old-growth longleaf pine upland forest had already been manipulated and then clearcut to create dry uplands used for naval stores, farming and cattle grazing. As farming diminished, slash pine plantations were established and volunteer pines and hardwoods seeded in, reducing the amount of open farmland.
The Florida Forest Service has initiated a prescribed fire program, planted longleaf pines on much of the open area, and thinned the timber on 125 acres of 35-year-old planted pines. Future activities will focus on removing invasive exotic plant species, planting longleaf pine trees, and additional selective timber harvesting. Reintroducing fire is a vital step to improve the habitat for game and nongame species, including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, gopher tortoises, and brown-headed nuthatches. The Florida Forest Service manages public land for multiple uses, including timber management, outdoor recreation and wildlife management and conservation.
Recreational activities on the forest include hiking, mountain biking, nature study, wildlife viewing and photography. In 2015, a 1-mile hiking trail was opened, giving visitors a sample of things to come. This trail, called the West Trail, was added to Florida’s State Forest Trailwalker Program. The parking area for this hiking trail is on the west side of State Road 26. In the spring of 2016, the Pithlachocco Bicycle Trail was opened, starting on the east side of State Road 26. This 5.5-mile loop trail provides a leisurely ride through hardwood and pine forests leading to views of Newnans Lake. In the fall of 2016, another hiking trail was opened. This 2.5-mile loop trail, which also begins at the Lake Pithlachocco Trailhead, offers hikers a shorter, more direct route to the lakeshore. Signage and wooden fencing identifies the parking areas for these trails.
Although there are no launch sites on the state forest, canoeists and kayakers can launch from public facilities on the southern and eastern shores of Newnans Lake and paddle along the lakeshore and into the swamps and streams of the forest.
Newnans Lake State Forest is an Operation Outdoor Freedom program site and provides recreational opportunities to wounded veterans.
In keeping with its mission to protect and manage Florida's forest resources, the Florida Forest Service has developed rules that apply to all state forest visitors. Find out more about state forest fees and rules.